A Passage to South Africa

Nosy Bé to Durban

As background to our new crew, we met Peter and Ute Laser last year in Yacht Haven, Phuket and have been in regular contact since.  German nationals living in Thailand, they offered to help crew Pipistrelle on this passage, an offer we couldn’t refuse!  A couple of days after they joined on 17th September, we left for Nosy Komba, a small island only a few miles from Hellville, Nosy Bé, featuring a village on the NE side protected from both the SE and NW winds.  For those interested, the position is 13 26.558S 48 21.244E.

(For readers who may be wondering what ‘Nosy’ is, it means ‘island’ in Malagasy – there are plenty of them!)

Close to the village an area has been created for visitors to see local lemurs.  To start with we thought we were going to be disappointed, but then the lure of bananas brought them bounding through the branches for a feed!  It was a great photo opportunity, with the little primates quite happily sitting on shoulders and heads, almost posing for the camera.

The many other villages on Nosy Komba are only reached by hiking over the top of the island, a two hour steep climb, maybe three hours to their village.  We managed two treks before sailing back to Hellville.  To see schoolchildren, mothers carrying wares on their heads, and men returning with timber for boat building, and heavy fruits, made us realise how tough life is for most people in Madagascar.  Another of those countless humbling experiences we have had while cruising.

After a tour of mountainous Nosy Bé with its deep lakes populated with crocodiles, and a day of provisioning we were ready to check out.  On 25th September we set sail for Nosy Munoko, an island 20 miles to the south with a beautiful anchorage which we shared with 3 other yachts.  Ashore is a small village where Malagasy sailing boats or dhows are built.  Interestingly, one was about to be launched, the other was in the initial stages of construction. Position 13 43.325S 48 11.261E.

For the next legs of our passage south along the west coast of Madagascar we used the valuable information from SV Infini’s blog which we rate very highly.  Michael and Susan have done a great job of describing each anchorage and more importantly providing accurate waypoints.

The winds on this leg begin in the SE early morning, with a lull mid-morning, before swinging to the NW in the afternoon, then dying off, before swinging overnight to the SE.  So with a favourable breeze we sailed past Russian Bay, and on to Nosy Iranja for a brief lunch stop, and then in to Baramahay Bay, known amongst yachties as Honey River.  It was another lovely anchorage, though for us it was only a one night stop. Position 13 42.802S 047 54.084E

That was followed by Point Berangomana which proved difficult to identify from offshore.  We also discovered the charts are wildly out, and where we were expecting a depth of 10 metres, there was 4.5m over a coral reef at HW.  The water is none too clear, and we beat a hasty retreat.  A safe entry waypoint is 14 06.622S 47 53.237E, midway 14 06.379S 47 53.707E.  This route showed us going over very shallow areas, but the least depth at LW was 5 metres.  Therefore the north side of this entrance must be avoided at all cost.  Once in, it is a good and sheltered anchorage. Position 14 06.04S 047 54.244E

With no wind in the early afternoon of the 70nm passage to Moramba Bay, we thought we would have to turn back to another anchorage for the night.  Fortunately the NW wind filled, and we just scraped in as dusk was falling, on a high tide.  This entrance was easy and the charts correct, and we used the anchorage point supplied by Nightfly, who had left the same day.  The stunning bay is well protected from both the SE and NW, though there is a bit of chop in the afternoon.  There are many islands dotted around, all limestone, so very similar to Phang Nga Bay in Thailand with overhangs created by water erosion, but without the majestic height of the karsts there.   Baobab trees abound, their trunks turning pink then brown in the evening sun. Position 14 53.672 47 19.703E.

The forecast for the next leg was not good, so we delayed a day and used the time to tackle the ever present overdue jobs, Peter’s electrical expertise coming in very handy.  Having Peter and Ute on board was great; they both cook expertly, even fighting over the galley and were eager to hone their sailing skills.  With their excellent sense of humour they were very welcome crew members.

Our next stop was Pt Ambararata, just an overnighter some 25 miles to the south. This was a fairly unprotected bay, but as the NWly breeze eased at 1900, the anchorage was fine.

The next day we were on our way by 0530, and had a stonking 50nm sail to Majumba, cracking along at 8kn for most of the way.  This appears to be a major town/port in Madagascar, but is also very poor.  We managed to buy some final provisions and more fuel, and enjoyed watching the many picturesque dhows sailing to and from the port.

After 10 days of coast hopping, on the morning of 6th October we started towards South Africa and Richards Bay, with an intended heading of due west, taking us across the Mozambique Channel at right angles, to then pick up the south going current.  Whilst we had a good SE’ly to start with, it soon died and we found ourselves motorsailing by the afternoon.  This continued on and off for 4 days when we stowed the mainsail and sailed or motorsailed with the genoa or staysail, or both.  Finally on 11th we found the magical 3kn of current, aided and abetted by the current predictor downloaded from Saildocs.

On 12th October we achieved a high 182nm in 24 hours and thought we would be able to sail direct to Richards Bay, thus beating the southerly storm forecast for 15/16th.  Our 9kn over the ground was very rapidly reduced to 4kn SOG and with it a change of plans to make for Maputo (Mozambique), seeking shelter beside Isles Portugueses.  Of immense help were the morning and evening nets on the SSB, and a pattern quickly developed which included the three boats ahead of us, Nightfly, Zephyr and Running Tide, and other boats still in Madagascar.  Mahi Mahi were in mid channel, but eventually joined us in making for Maputo.

On 14th we rounded the headland south of Inhambane.  With the wind backing from NE to South, were finally able to hoist the mainsail, kill the engine, and get some boat speed on for our arrival on the 15th at Maputo.  As we arrived at the shallows we had to cross, the wind picked up to 25 knots and the heavens opened, but having lowered the mainsail and furled the genoa, our passage to the anchorage was uneventful.  It can hardly be described as sheltered, but it was better than being in open seas with 35 knots of wind from the south!

By the morning of 17th the wind was moderating and moving SE, so we led the exodus from the anchorage, with Mahi Mahi deciding to stay.

As the forecast was good for the next 5 days we decided to sail direct for Durban because there was still unfinished work to be done to the electronics as a result of the lightning strike back in April.  The expertise we needed is unavailable in Richards Bay.  First we had to clear Cabo Inhaca which took a number of tacks, and then we found we had 2kn of current against us.

By the end of the first night it was with us again, the wind swung to the NE, and our problem was slowing down enough to avoid arriving at the busy port of Durban in the middle of the night.  We passed Richards Bay in the early evening, with about 30 ships at anchor waiting to unload their cargoes.  It was a good decision to continue!  Even with furled headsail and one reef in the main, we were still doing 10kn over the ground!  We finished up with 3 reefs, making 8 kn over the ground, until the current headed SE and we sailed south.

We sailed into Durban at 09.30 on 19th October, a total passage of 1,660nm, which also qualified Peter and Ute to join the Ocean Cruising Club, which has a 1,000nm passage as the minimum requirement for membership.

Whilst the Port Authority gave excellent directions and allowed us to sail in immediately, we were surprised to find that Durban Marina does not have a VHF facility, which would have made finding a berth so much easier.  After some delay we moored, and then began the checking in process.

Bob Fraser is the OCC Port Officer in Durban, a delightful guy, who met us in the café next to the Point Yacht Club where he can normally be found.  He is a fount of knowledge, not only about the PYC which is steeped in history, but also about Durban and its environs.  Immigration should have visited us on board, but Bob (Fraser) took things into his own hands, and drove us to Customs and Immigration, with formalities being completed in a very short time.  After returning to PYC he helped us with finding an ATM, SIM cards and warned us where it was safe and not so safe to walk.

Pipistrelle is now safely berthed alongside on a pontoon and Vladimar is already at work on the electronics.  Ullman Sails will replace the staysail which has lasted 10 years and was patched in Nosy Be after taking a beating on our passage from the Seychelles to Madagascar.  We return to the UK for a short break before continuing the passage to Cape Town in December.  Peter and Ute are off to enjoy safaris and see some of the sights in South Africa before returning to Phuket.  They have been a delight to have on board, and we look forward to welcoming them again at some future date.

This entry was posted in Madagascar, South Africa and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.